Why the Red Sox are where they are
The Red Sox haven’t taken off the way people hoped. But they also aren’t playing as badly as some would have you believe. Middle-of-the-road results aren’t good enough for a team with sky-high expectations, but there’s reason to believe better days are on their way.
Here’s how we got to a 21-20 record on this fine off-day, May 22.
1. THIRD BASE
Entering Monday, Boston’s black hole at the hot corner was the darkest anywhere, an inescapable vortex of terrible baseball. At -1.1 wins above replacement (per Baseball-Reference.com), the Sox have had the worst third-base production of all 30 teams.
The game is in the midst of a renaissance at the position, which makes the Sox’ woes stand out even more. Miguel Sano of the Twins has emerged as one of the top five players anywhere, next to names already established and others that are blossoming, guys like Kris Bryant, Nolan Arenado, Eugenio Suarez and Manny Machado.
Per FanGraphs, former Sox third baseman Travis Shaw (0.9 WAR) has been more valuable than Mike Moustakas (0.7) of the Royals this season, the latter a potential trade target.
Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has got some ‘splaining to do. But Pablo Sandoval’s coming back, so, get excited! Or look forward to seeing what Rafael Devers can do come August, if some stopgap hasn’t been acquired via trade.
2. RUNNERS IN SCORING POSITION . . . LATELY
Fitting with the middle-of-the-road theme, the Sox’ .267 average with runners in scoring position in May is 14th-best among the 30 teams. The Rockies are hitting a whopping .387, the Orioles .343.
Here’s what Red Sox fans should keep remembering: Their team is third in the majors in overall batting average on the season, at .267. It’s fourth in on-base percentage, at .337. The Sox are 19th in slugging percentage at .408, which makes it hard to capitalize on those base runners, but that figure is creeping up in May, to .441. That’s the same mark the Astros have on the season.
David Ortiz is gone. But he didn’t take every ounce of power in this lineup with him. Wait.
3. CHRIS SALE AND CRAIG KIMBREL
We need to highlight why the Red Sox are in third place, rather than say, fifth place. An acknowledgment of the good that has gone on as well, and there’s more good than many realize.
These two are obvious. A day in which Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel pitch is virtually guaranteed to be worth the price of admission, depending on how badly your tickets were marked up.
Overall, the Red Sox ERA entering Monday was an even 4.00. Take out the ace and the closer, it’s 4.60. Combined, Sale and Kimbrel have a 1.90 ERA.
The difference in velocity with Sale has been huge, and you have to hope it’s sustainable. He’s at 95.37 mph on average with his four-seamer, per BrooksBaseball.net. Last year, he was at 93.64, after sitting at 95.64 two years ago (2015).
For Kimbrel, his strikeout rate is back to the level he had in 2012, the year he had a 1.01 ERA as a 24-year-old. He’s fanning 16.5 per nine innings. Best of all, though, is a walk rate that’s unprecedented for him, 0.9, an incredible difference from last year’s 5.1 -- and on pace to be the best of his career.
4. STARTING PITCHING DEPTH
It was an issue the day the Red Sox acquired Chris Sale. The Sox had seven starting pitchers potentially: Sale, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright, Drew Pomeranz, Clay Buchholz and David Price.
Back then, it was this observer’s opinion the Sox should trade none of them. They dealt Buchholz, and that proved a fine move considering he underwent forearm surgery.
Still, this is one area where Dombrowski shares the blame with the prior administration.
Pitching depth is a very difficult thing to acquire from the outside. You need players who are capable but also young enough that they have minor-league options remaining, so that they can move between the majors and Triple-A. Good pitching depth is a function of good drafting, and if not that, then targeted trades.
Dombrowski went out and got Roenis Elias in his first offseason, as part of the Wade Miley deal. Well, Elias is basically out of sight and out of mind. Kyle Kendrick and Hector Velazquez, Dombrowski pick-ups in free agency, have been awful to this point in the big leagues.
All Ben Cherington and Co. left Dombrowski with were Henry Owens and Brian Johnson. The latter’s probably the last hope internally before the Sox have to go out and get an arm, and they’re probably already at that point. But a ton depends on David Price.
You can’t ignore the impact of disabled-list stints for David Price, Tyler Thornburg, Brock Holt and Pablo Sandoval. Steven Wright’s out for the season because of a knee operation and Marco Hernandez is expected to have surgery on his left shoulder. Teams have to prepare for injuries, but you can take that idea too far as well.
We can keep on a positive trend with this one, though. No Thornburg, no Carson Smith.
Can you imagine if the Sox bullpen didn’t have the fourth-best ERA in the majors, at 3.13? You probably don’t want to.
There’s already some signs the group is coming back down to Earth, but the bullpen’s been the most pleasant surprise the Sox have had this season. Fernando Abad’s proving serviceable, Robby Scott is infallible and Joe Kelly is transforming himself into an excellent late-inning pitcher. Matt Barnes and Heath Hembree have been a mixed bag, while Robbie Ross Jr.’s fall from grace has been swift.